192. The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles* (Canada) - (US)

Pages: 346 +bibliography
Ages: 18+
Finished: Aug. 28, 2011
First Published: Mar. 23, 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: historical fiction, biographical fiction, western, Texas history
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

When they first came into the country it was wet and raining and if they had known of the droughts that lasted for seven years at a time they might never have stayed.

Acquired: Received a review copy Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: I love historical fiction that takes place in the late 1800's Wild West.  The Black man/Indian perspective was also intriguing.

This is the story of Britt Johnson, a true-life black man, and the story of his life just after the Civil War.  Britt was a freedman with a wife and 3 three children.  Not much is known of him in hard facts, though his story has lived on in oral tradition throughout the ages.  When he was off with the other men of his homestead area getting supplies in town, the Comanche and Kiowa came in a raided their homesteads.  Killing, raping and taking captives.  Britt's wife was raped and suffered a major head wound, his eldest son was killed, while his wife and two younger children were taken captive along with a neighbouring white woman and her two little granddaughters.  We see this story from Britt's side, from Mary's side, from the children's side, and from various Indian character's sides as well.  There is also introduced a Quaker man who becomes the agent of Indian Affairs for these two violent Native groups and he wrestles strongly with his peaceful Quaker ways and the violent kidnapping of children & women by the Indians as he becomes the only man with enough power to help those being violated but he must go against his religious philosophies to do so and yet his moral self will not allow him to not help stop the atrocities.

A fine book that brings deep perspective to a dark period of American history.  Indians are being sent off their land and made to live on reservations to learn to farm when it is not their way, but in return their way is raiding and war, scalping, raping, enslaving others.  Many wrestle with the morality of it all.  Britt is a hero on the white man's side as he risks his life to find Indian captives and bring them back home to their own culture, but what to do with the ones taken as babies who know no other way of life.  It is wrong that they have been stolen and yet they do not want to leave what they consider there homes.  While Britt is a respected man for what he does, he's never allowed to forget the colour of his own skin as he enters city centres and must use back doors or cannot even enter certain establishments at all.  A gripping, thought-provoking book peopled with real life figures from history.

*Paulette Jiles was born in America and lives there now, but she lived a large part of her life in Canada and retains dual citizenship.  She's won many Canadian and Commonwealth Awards and since she's eligible for those, I am considering her eligible for the Canadian Book Challenge, too.


  1. I have owned this for a while and still not read it. I am glad to hear you mostly enjoyed it...


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